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25 September 2003

Middle East Television Network Aims to Replicate Radio Sawa's Success

Satellite station scheduled to be launched in late December

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) expects to launch its new Arabic language Middle East television network in late December according to Norman Pattiz, BBG Governor and Chairman of its Middle East Committee.

At a September 25 press conference, Pattiz outlined the organization's plans and expectations for the new network, which is being created with a $32 million congressional appropriation and has an expected $30 million operating budget for its first fiscal year.

The satellite channel will be broadcast over the ArabSat and the NileSat. BBG estimates that this will give the network a potential audience of as many as 170 million viewers across the Middle East.

The primary format of the station will be news and information, but Pattiz indicated that it will also include movies, sports, entertainment and educational programming similar to shows on Discovery, the History Channel, Arts & Entertainment, and U.S. public television.

BBG hopes to achieve a similar success to what it has seen with its Arabic radio broadcast, Radio Sawa. A recent independent study by Nielsen Ratings has confirmed much of BBG's internal market research, indicating that Radio Sawa enjoys an average weekly listenership of 31.6 percent of the 15-and-above radio audience in targeted countries.

The Nielsen survey, which is based on interviews with 5737 adults in Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, showed that Radio Sawa's market penetration within its core target audience of 15-29 year olds is 42 percent. BBG officials are also pleased with the finding that 75.7 percent of Radio Sawa's listeners rate the station's news and information as "very or somewhat reliable."

Pattiz acknowledged that Radio Sawa's market is perhaps the most skeptical in the world. "While Arabs are drawn to the American values of individual choice and freedom, they fiercely oppose U.S. policies and are increasingly doubtful about our intentions in the region," he said.

In order to overcome that skepticism, Radio Sawa adheres to a "journalistic mission." According to the station's news director Mouafac Harb, "We tell the facts. We do not cater to people's emotions."

As for communicating U.S. policies, Harb clarifies that "our job is to present it clearly. It is not our job to promote and advocate it."

Pattiz observed that "People in the Middle East are very media savvy. They understand what's going on. They know when they're being given reliable, credible news and they know when they're not."

The BBG Governor went on to affirm that Radio Sawa and the new Middle East television network seek to present all aspects of U.S. policies, "to present a discussion about those policies, to present the pros and cons about those policies. Our mission is to give a view of American culture -- but not a single view of American culture, rather the wide variety of views and opinions in American culture."

"We will also make sure that there is significant discussion about those policies," Pattiz stated, "that all points of view are aired and heard." In so doing, the station's managers hope to maintain a high standard of credibility.